CSU Faculty Council raises concerns about presidential finalist's qualifications

Amy Parsons was named the sole finalist to become the 16th president of Colorado State University's main campus in Fort Colllins on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.
Amy Parsons was named the sole finalist to become the 16th president of Colorado State University's main campus in Fort Colllins on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Colorado State University faculty members didn’t hold back Tuesday while sharing their concerns with interim President Rick Miranda about the qualifications of Amy Parsons to become the university’s next president.

Parsons, named the sole finalist for the position Friday by the CSU System Board of Governors, has no background in teaching or research, the university’s primary functions, they said during a Faculty Council meeting held in a hybrid fashion, with some members gathered in a room at the Lory Student Center and others participating virtually.

Parsons’ background is in law, including work as CSU’s deputy general counsel, and administration, having served as CSU’s vice president for university operations on the Fort Collins campus and later as executive vice chancellor of the CSU System during her 16 years with the university before leaving for the private sector in 2020. She has been CEO of an international e-commerce company, Mozzafiato, for the past two years.

“I think many people across the university are concerned about her lack of academic background,” said council member Mary Van Buren, a professor of anthropology. “She has experience as a lawyer, policing the university. She has experience as an administrator, and she has experience as an entrepreneur.”

Van Buren went on to note that Parsons’ six-page cover letter to the Board of Governors, outlining her interest and qualifications for the job, barely mentioned the word “faculty.”

“And I find that very concerning,” she said.

Sybil Sharvelle, a professor in civil and environmental engineering, said she was speaking for herself and several colleagues in her department.

“I’d like to get a little more specific about why I think this creates some concern for faculty,” she said, “which is that someone who hasn’t had that experience doesn’t know what it’s necessarily like to balance teaching, research and engagement activities all together, and doesn’t understand what it takes to publish a peer-reviewed paper and mentor students, and also what it takes to write a research grant and execute that grant with faculty collaborators.”

Miranda defended the Board of Governors’ selection of Parsons, noting that she was selected through a “fairly robust” search process that began in June, when former President Joyce McConnell and the board reached a resignation settlement. A 31-member search committee was selected, and nine public meetings were held on campus to seek input on what questions the candidates should be asked. The search committee interviewed 12 candidates, then selected the top three for the Board of Governors to interview.

And they selected Parsons as the sole "finalist."

From math professor to president: Rick Miranda to focus 'on the basic stuff' for CSU

State law requires a 14-day waiting period between when finalists for the president’s job are named and when an actual job offer can be extended. The Board of Governors is scheduled to formally hire Parsons on Friday, Dec. 16 — 15 days after naming her the sole finalist — said Andrew Norton, the Faculty Council’s representative to the Board of Governors.

Miranda served as the university’s provost and executive vice president and later chief academic officer for the CSU System, working alongside Parsons in her various administrative roles for much of that time.

He acknowledged her lack of academic experience but said he doesn’t believe that will prevent her from being a successful university president.

“The question’s not what are her academic credentials, but does she support academics?” Miranda said. “Will she build an academically oriented team to run the academic parts of the university? I have a lot of confidence she will.

“I talked to her Saturday, and she said, ‘Look, I know that’s not part of my background, and my first job is to make sure the academic side, both the curriculum and the research programs of the university are strong.’

“She knows that, and she is totally committed to making sure and helping us all do that.”

Faculty council members also questioned the transparency of the hiring process, suggesting that selecting a sole finalist in closed meetings left them little input on the process.

There were also concerns raised about how someone who was essentially an internal candidate could address and correct inequities created through a university culture she was deeply entrenched in; how that person would challenge the status quo and increase the racial and educational diversity of the faculty and campus leadership; and how she would maintain independence through a shared governance system from a CSU System chancellor, Tony Frank, whom she worked so closely with previously.

Several council members said they felt uncomfortable offering feedback on the finalist through the website the Board of Governors created for that purpose, noting that any comments they made would be connected to them through their email addresses.

As a result, the council voted to create its own forum for faculty and others to share feedback anonymously that council members would collect, categorize and share with the Board of Governors by the middle of next week, before the new president is officially hired.

“I’m excited about Amy coming and taking the keys away from me,” Miranda said afterward outside the meeting room. “All of us in the administration building, and I think a lot of people in that room, are really looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with her.

“Yes, there’s some skepticism about how this is going to play out, but there always is in a new president. You never know everything you want to know about how the future’s going to unfold, so a little bit of nervousness is natural, and it’s fine.

“But I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to work out really well.”

Reporter Kelly Lyell covers educatiion and other topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at kellylyell@coloradoan.com, twitter.com/KellyLyell or facebook.com/KellyLyell.news

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado State University faculty raise concerns about president choice